Laurie Metcalf, Broadway's 'Virginia Woolf' Star, Has Never Seen 'Virginia Woolf'

Jesse Dittmar/Redux
"I love knowing where a really strong, juicy laugh line is coming, teeing it up in just the right way and getting that response," says Metcalf.

The 'Conners' star returns to the stage in a revival of the play, but admits she likes to stay in when she's not rehearsing: "I'm kind of a hermit."

Don't expect to see Laurie Metcalf holding court at Sardi's after performing in one of the most anticipated shows of the spring Broadway season, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? That's not just because the Broadway-adjacent bistro hasn't been cool since the 1980s. Metcalf prefers to spend her free time holed up in whatever apartment producers have rented for when she's on the stage in New York.

"I'm kind of a hermit, so this just gives me an excuse. 'Oh, rehearsal was so hard today. It's my only day off this week. I have to stay in tonight. Sorry!' " says the L.A.-based actress, who stars with Rupert Everett in two-time Tony winner's Joe Mantello staging of Woolf. (Previews begin March 3.)

Metcalf, 64, has been a fixture on American TV since 1988, famously playing the neurotic Jackie on Roseanne and now ABC's revival turned spinoff The Conners, but she is enjoying a sustained renaissance. Her past four Broadway performances earned consecutive Tony nominations, with wins for A Doll's House, Part 2 (2017) and Three Tall Women (2018), joining three Emmys (of 11 career nominations) and an Oscar nom for 2017's Lady Bird. Spared the full for-your-consideration gantlet by the staging of Three Tall Women, Metcalf looks back on her Lady Bird awards-season run as "quick and fuzzy — talking about yourself that much is hard," she says.

Self-aggrandizement and glad-handing are clearly not skills in the demure Midwesterner's otherwise full toolbox. The Illinois native was reminded of this while playing a fictionalized Hillary Clinton in 2019's Hillary and Clinton. In fact, recent coverage of the New Hampshire primary gave her flashbacks: "The amount of flesh-pressing and selfies in politics boggles me," she says. "It's my idea of hell."

What is heaven for Metcalf? Her current status as one of the world's most sought-after stage actors, for starters, though humility prevents her from describing herself that way.

She now uses her yearly Conners hiatus as an opportunity to tackle a different play, alternating between starring roles in original pieces and revivals of famous works. For the 2020 season, the twice-divorced mom of four is taking on Edward Albee's 1962 dysfunctional marriage drama. And despite a lengthy résumé — her performances in early Steppenwolf productions of The Glass Menagerie (1979) and Balm in Gilead (1980) are the stuff of theater legend — this marks her first stab at Woolf.

So if Metcalf bails on any plans between now and opening night (April 9), know that she's genuinely preoccupied with putting a new stamp on the drunk and taunting Martha — discovering her own sense of humor buried in previously unmined lines of the darkly comic 58-year-old text, which she's never seen performed: "I purposefully stayed away from it all these years, thinking maybe one day I'd have a chance to do it."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.